Barring a transformation of the Democratic and Republican Parties, there is going to be a serious third party candidate in 2012, with a serious political movement behind him or her — one definitely big enough to impact the election’s outcome.
The most charitable way to interpret this is as literally as possible. After all, Ralph Nader may have tipped the 2000 election to Bush and Ross Perot may have helped Bill Clinton defeat H.W. Bush in 1992. So you could say that those candidates "impacted" the election's outcome, but only by marginally tilting things towards one or other of the two major parties. In neither case has a serious third party emerged to influence public policy or future elections, but it seems that every few elections a third party spoils it for one of the big dogs. I don't think that's what Friedman is talking about, however, because of what Friedman wants this emergent third party to do to American politics:
We need to stop waiting for Superman and start building a superconsensus to do the superhard stuff we must do now. Pretty good is not even close to good enough today.
Besides being High Broderism, just how exactly would further fracturing the political system lead to a "superconsensus"? If two parties are too beholden to their interest groups to enact "optimal" policy by consensus, what makes Friedman think that adding a third group would some how make that easier? Friedman needs to brush up on his Olson.
I've been reading a lot lately about how the political system is broken, and how we're doomed because there are too many veto players and things can't get done and we can't make "tough decisions" and bipartisanship is dead and "special" interest groups have too much influence etc. You know what? That's American politics. That's the way American institutions were designed: to favor incremental changes that required the approval of large groups of different people. That's why changing the system has always taken a very long time. And that's why we have the party system that we have. Perhaps a parliamentary system that encourages the participation of more parties would be better, but that's not what we have. The two-party system is a product of institutional design, and that's not changing in the next 18-24 months.
Finally, how weird is it that just a year ago Friedman was advocating one-party benevolent authoritarianism as the solution to all our problems, and now he's advocating the exact opposite?